Title: Social Innovation in Food Provision: Pathways to Sustainable Production and Consumption

Funding source: Latvian Council of Science, Fundamental and applied ressearch project programme, agreement no. lzp-2018/1-0344.

Implementation period: 01.09.2018-31.08.2021.

Coordinator: Baltic Studies Centre

The project SINFO is based on a combination of two major strands of research - innovation studies and food studies. The main objectives of the project are (i) to improve scientific understanding of social innovation in food provision, and (ii) to explore conditions, frameworks and scenarios for enabling practical innovations towards sustainable food production and consumption in Latvia.

The project raises three research questions: (i) what is the scope, diversity and dynamics of social innovation in food provision; (ii) what are the outcomes of social innovation; (iii) what is the relation between social innovation and governance in food provision. The project will advance the state of the art by examining how social innovations taking place in various sectors of the food system can be upscaled through better alignment with the principles and practices of participatory governance.

The project resonates with three national research priorities (Culture of knowledge and innovations for economic sustainability; Public health; Research and sustainable use of local natural resources for the development of a knowledge-based bioeconomy).

The project is organised in six work packages, including conceptual typology, drivers of change towards sustainable production and consumption, pathways towards sustainable food provision, enabling frameworks, and communication and dissemination. In order to achieve the objectives, the project proposes a mix of research methods, including case studies, interviews, media analysis, surveys, policy analysis, scenario development, stakeholder engagement and consultation.

Work on the project commenced on 31 August 2018. The project will be carried out, drawing on extensive research experience gained in EU FP7 and H2020 projects. The results will be disseminated in international academic journal publications, scientific conferences and through materials aimed at food system stakeholders, policymakers and the general public.

Progress achieved:

By October 2020, the research team has conducted desk research (literature review, development of conceptual framework, cataloguing food provision initiatives in Latvia) and carried out extensive empirical work (media analysis, population survey, focusgroup discussions):

- Work on the conceptual framework, based on an extensive literature review, allowed us to identify the diversity of drivers behind social innovation, and the ways in which social innovation in food provision can contribute to positive food system outcomes, whilst bearing in mind the obstacles that hamper food provision initiatives from developing and up-scaling. As a result of this work the following definition of social innovation has been adopted in the project to guide all the subsequent activities: “Social innovation is a reconfiguration of social practices, in response to challenges of agri-food systems, which seeks to enhance outcomes towards sustainability of agri-food systems and societal well-being and necessarily includes the engagement of civil society actors”.

- The cataloguing of food provision initiatives (n=70) in Latvia formed the basis of a typology of such initiatives, which was used for the selection of case studies exemplifying the involvement of diverse stakeholders and different governance mechanisms.

- The media text analysis (n=193) allowed us to identify the dominant framings of dietary habits in Latvian media. Crucially, it indicated that topics of interest to this project are not part of the mainstream and relegated to publications with narrow readerships.

- The public opinion survey (nationwide sample survey of the population; n=1046) has allowed us to identify trends in consumer demand for sustainable food and changes in diets, and perceived food security risks and vulnerabilities from the perspective of consumers.

- Work is currently ongoing regarding the response of the food industry to changes in consumer demand, and the measures that have been taken to ensure the supply of sustainably produced products. 

The combined insights will allow us to (i) examine different modes of sustainable food production and consumption that provide desirable public health, environmental, economic, and social outcomes, and (ii) understand enabling frameworks and governance arrangements that allow for the unfolding of social innovation and the alignment of sustainable production and consumption. The consolidated findings will allow the research team to develop future scenarios and pathways towards sustainable food provision and elaborate policy and practice recommendations oriented at the food industry, consumers and policy makers.

Related BSC blog posts (in English):